Shuttle rescue plans... Jun 22, 2005 15:54:16 GMT -6
Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Jun 22, 2005 15:54:16 GMT -6
NASA drafts backup plan
HOUSTON -- In less than six weeks, NASA plans to relaunch the space shuttle for the first time since Columbia disintegrated during re-entry in 2003. As a precaution, NASA officials have drawn up a list of daring maneuvers they could use to help bring astronauts home on a damaged vehicle.
The most dramatic scenarios would require NASA to ignore long-standing flight rules, such as guidelines on when to start re-entry. The new procedures could be used if the shuttle's heat shield suffered damage, as Columbia's did. The steps are designed to reduce temperatures on the heat shield:
• In the most extreme case, NASA could raise the shuttle's nose 10 degrees above normal as it hurtles toward the Earth. The maneuver has never been attempted.
• While the shuttle is in orbit, the damaged part could be pointed away from the sun and toward the chill of outer space.
• An astronaut could throw unneeded items, such as extra space suits, overboard or leave them on the International Space Station. Less weight means less heating.
Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to blast off as early as July 13. In preparation, NASA has tried to cut the risk that debris will gouge the heat shield.
"We are doing everything we can to eliminate critical debris," said Leroy Cain, who led the planning. But "what if we're not as smart as we think we are? We'd like to be able to have some response."
The most radical plans are unlikely to be used, Cain said. NASA would resort to such steps only if "we literally don't have any other choice," he said.
What the shuttle and future incarnations need...is an independant crew cabin re-entry option, where the bulk of the craft can be jettisoned and the crew compartment can re-enter...much like the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules did.